If all women, or almost, observe more or less white traces in their panties at the end of the day, few of them know where they come from, and especially to what extent they are a great tool to manage one's fertility naturally!
Often considered at best random, at worst dirty or shameful, these white or yellowish secretions are however completely normal and contribute to good intimate health. Each one of them has a precise role, which is why they do not all appear at the same time and why it is possible to observe changes in vaginal secretions as the days go by.
Knowing how to decipher them allows you to situate yourself in your cycle and therefore on your fertility (in other words, the days when intercourse can lead to pregnancy).
We are therefore going to take a look at the different types of discharge that can be observed in your panties and, for each one, indicate what it has to tell us about your cycle and your fertility.
What different types of vaginal secretions can we observe?
Cervical mucus, the queen of discharge during fertile periods!
This secretion has a somewhat unappealing name, but it is by far the most important. Cervical mucus is a secretion produced by the cervix under the effect of estrogen (a sex hormone produced mainly in the first part of the cycle). In other words, cervical mucus appears when women are about to ovulate. As the future egg grows, the number of estrogens produced increases and the mucus becomes more viscous.
Its profile therefore changes in the days preceding ovulation, initially rather sticky, it becomes creamier and then very viscous or even liquid at the time of ovulation. It is therefore a wonderful pre-integrated fertility index on which the cycle observation methods are based, allowing to identify its fertile and infertile days. And when it is not visible enough, it is important to encourage it to improve fertility because without mucus, fertilization is not possible. Indeed, spermatozoa cannot survive without it in the acidity of the vagina, so it is the cervical mucus that will allow spermatozoa to live up to 5 days in the female genital tract. So when there is mucus, you are fertile, and even more precisely, when there is more liquid mucus, you are very fertile!
As soon as the mucus dries up or even disappears, it means that ovulation has passed. Moreover, in symptothermy (science of cycle observation), the observation of mucus is always combined with the taking of temperature to validate a successful ovulation because the body temperature increases slightly after ovulation.
To summarize, cervical mucus is produced in the days before ovulation, during a fertile period of about 5 days.
Nevertheless, it is still possible to observe traces in her panties the rest of the time. Why is this? Because other secretions are produced, we explain:
White discharge, the most common secretions
If the cervical mucus is easily recognizable since it is rather wet, viscous and thick (it is often compared to a raw egg white at the time of ovulation), the rest of the time, menstruating people can have constant secretions that look more like a "pasty crust" in the underwear, but that people will not necessarily feel when wiping themselves in the toilet (unlike mucus that makes the paper slip!). This is commonly known as white discharge. This is made up of two things:
- The infertile version of cervical mucus, which doesn't leak out but sticks to the cervix, blocking access when you're not fertile. This dry, sticky mucus can break down a little and give these pasty secretions.
- Vaginal cells, which flake off and also leave this dry and whitish appearance in the underwear.
This mix of infertile mucus and shedding vaginal cells can result in a white discharge that can be seen throughout the cycle. Some women will never see it, others will have it every day, others only on certain days. In any case, it is totally normal, each menstruating person being different.
The trick is to know how to distinguish these sticky secretions from wet mucus, in order to recognize the fertile period when you are about to ovulate (when the wet sensation of fertile mucus appears) and when you are coming out of it and therefore have no chance of pregnancy (when you have a drier sensation and only observe white discharge or nothing at all).
White discharge and cervical mucus are two types of secretions produced naturally by the body.
But another type of secretion can be observed:
Secretions after sexual intercourse
After sexual intercourse, several types of secretions can be observed. These may include:
- Cyprine, produced before or during intercourse under the effect of desire by the Bartholin glands, located at the entrance to the vagina. It is actually the fluid of sexual excitement, which allows better lubrication of the vagina and vulva during sexual intercourse. In principle, it only flows before or during intercourse, so there is little risk of confusing it with mucus or white discharge.
- Seminal fluid, or semen: this secretion is produced by people with a penis and can be observed following penetrative sex. Nevertheless, it is possible to find it until the day after an intercourse. It can be difficult to differentiate between semen and mucus. One technique is the glass of water technique. This consists of taking the liquid and putting it in a glass of water: if the material remains in one piece, either by floating or by settling at the bottom of the glass, it is cervical mucus. If it dissolves, it is semen (or cyprine or even infertile white discharge). Only cervical mucus does not dissolve in water! Making this distinction is particularly important for women who want to get pregnant, as this is a time when it is essential to pay attention to your cervical mucus in order to calculate your ovulation and fertility period. However, it is also a time when the recurrence of intercourse is multiplied and it is difficult to differentiate sperm from cervical mucus.
Odorous or unusually colored discharge, sign of an infection?
Finally, menstruating women may also notice at certain times an odorous or unusually colored discharge. In fact, all the secretions mentioned so far are normally transparent, white or even yellowish or slightly pink, and practically odorless. However, as soon as the secretion has a strong odor (often rotten fish) or an unusual color (especially green or gray), it is a sign of a fungus, vaginosis or other infection that needs to be treated. If this is the case for you, we recommend that you see a doctor. The same applies if the discharge is accompanied by itching, burning, pain or fever.
So that's it for the map of secretions that you can find in your panties. As you can see, the one that is most important to recognize is cervical mucus! Whether you are planning to have a baby or you want to manage your contraception naturally and avoid the fertile period, or just to reconnect with your cycle, it is our best integrated indicator!
I hope that this overview will have allowed you to make the distinction and you understood it, in case of doubt, we draw our glass of water!
Our menstrual panties are perfect for all the vaginal secretions that can occur during your cycles.
Author Laurène Sindicic is the founder of the Emancipées platform, which aims to give women the keys to understanding their bodies, deciphering their cycles and optimizing their fertility, with empowerment and without taboos! She accompanies women (and couples) in their baby project through a 3-month program called the Fertility Club. You can also find her on Instagram @Emancipees.